Patriots

Rewatching the Patriots Game Isn’t Hazardous to Your Health, But It Is To Tom Brady’s

So I spent a good part of the morning re-watching the Patriots-Raiders game, specifically when the ball belonged to Tom Brady and this sputtering offense. You know what the real awakening is once you zip through the DVR a couple of times?

There are way more commercials than you realize when you’re watching live and working in those well-timed bathroom breaks and fridge alerts.

Three commercials in particular — I’ll identify them as Stephen A. Smith-as-a-Gorton’s-fisherman, Siri’s pathetic pleas to avoid being dumped for a trophy phone, and the one with the Chiefs fan who might be Barry Word — must have run 18 times combined.

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It’s a small reminder of what we already know: Soulless Roger Goodell’s NFL is not about to stop rolling in revenue.

Football is addictive entertainment. It’s why we watch and re-watch. It keeps us curious about why and how our teams are succeeding or failing. Now, I’m not about to pretend I have a clue about the nuances of what’s going on here, of why Spider 2 Y Banana or whatever from Josh McDaniels’s Trapper Keeper of a playbook isn’t working as its drawn up. I’ll trust the Bedards, Volins and Reeses to diagnose that stuff, to find the truth in the details.

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My quest was more fundamental: I wanted to take a closer look at the carnage Justin Tuck and the Raiders defense inflicted on the Brady-endangering offensive line, this quartet of Eugene Chung clones that threatens with every snap to put Brady in traction from now until next year’s Met Gala.

Beyond that, I wanted to see and see again how the inept line is affecting Brady. Is he missing throws he would normally make because the line isn’t giving him time? Is he rushing throws because he doesn’t expect to have time? Or is the precision of his compass off for some unrelated reason — injury, or a kink in his mechanics? I do wonder sometimes whether he misses his longtime quarterbacking mentor, Tom Martinez, who died in 2012.

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Brady should not be getting a whole hell of a lot of grief for his performance:

The punishment Brady was taking was noticeable while viewing the game in real-time. Watching the condensed version only magnified it, and you couldn’t help but notice that it took him longer and longer to gather himself after each successive hit.

Maybe Brady is more hyper-aware of the rush these days than he was in his reckless NFL youth. Signs are easily found that he is — his first-quarter miss of a wide-open Rob Gronkowski appeared to be influenced by the fact that Marcus Cannon was flopping like a seal a few feet away.

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You cannot blame him for it. He hangs in long enough, usually, and he pays for it. Brady endures some violence, man. Khalil Mack — pretty decent draft the Raiders had for once, huh? — buried him while leading a four-man Oakland convoy on a third and 4 situation with 6:25 left in the third quarter. Brady was engulfed so quickly that Gronkowski barely had time to come out of his cut at the first-down marker.

Remember how Peyton Manning wryly noted that he should be the one to introduce longtime nemesis Ty Law should the day come when the cornerback is enshrined in the Hall of Fame?

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Brady might want to make the same offer to Justin Tuck. He’s probably not getting close to Canton, I suppose, but man, does he ever torment Brady. His performance Sunday was a flashback to his dominance in the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants.

Tuck crushed Brady twice in the second half, once on a high-low, high-speed hit early in the third quarter with Antonio Smith. Then, with 6:28 left in the game, he beat Nate Solder with a swim move and belted Brady so hard that he lifted him off his feet before planting him on the sod.

Brady’s next throw was off the mark, and he briefly doubled over in frustration and, presumably, pain. It would not shock me at all if he shows up on the injury report (ribs, probable) this week.

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Was Brady off-target at times? Yep, at least compared to the if-the-receiver-is-close-to-open-he’ll-find-him accuracy of his heyday. Gronk’s drop in the end zone is a touchdown if Brady leads him another foot. (I’ve wondered if Brady is having a hard time calibrating Gronk’s speed, or lack thereof, right now.)

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He lacked velocity on a throw over the middle to Brandon LaFell that Charles Woodson nearly picked off. Woodson, at age 54, I believe, was all over the place Sunday. Pretty good for a guy whom I believe was a rookie the same year as Lester Hayes. While I think of it, I demand a 30 for 30 on the late-’90s Michigan football teams with Woodson, Brady and the wildly unpopular Brian Griese.

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But given what this line is putting him through, and the cutesy high-degree-of-difficulty stuff Josh McDaniels is asking him to do … well, let’s put it this way: I’m going to stop griping about the occasional misses and appreciating him why he’s here. Because the way the line is playing, it’s not going to be for long.

I’ll keep these next two shorter since I wrote a couple of volumes on Brady …

Josh McDaniels abandoned the run too soon, because that’s what Josh McDaniels does:

The Raiders entered the game having allowed 400 rushing yards in two games. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to give the line some confidence, ease Brady’s burden, and win a game the old-school way — with a versatile, tough running game and a stout defense.

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The defense did its part. And for a time, the running backs did too. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 16 carries for 60 yards in the first half. The numbers (each back averaged 3.8 yards per carry) aren’t overwhelming, but they don’t do the backs’ effectiveness justice, either.

Both contributed to prolonged drives, and Ridley in particular looked on the verge of breaking a long one a couple of times. Had the Patriots stuck with him, I suspect it might have happened.

You felt good about the running game. McDaniels? He forgot about it. Ridley and Vereen teamed for just 10 more carries in the second half. They didn’t gain much in yardage, but they didn’t have much opportunity to, either. The symbolic sequence on just how little leeway McDaniels gives the running back came on first and goal from the Oakland 3 with less than a minute left in the first half.

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Ridley, who had just put the Patriots in a first-and-goal situation, takes the handoff and runs left, only to stumble (possibly to avoid being tripped by Marcus Cannon) and fall forward for a yard. On second down, Vereen runs up the gut and into Tuck’s Subway-fortified gut for no gain. Third down: Brady fumbles the snap in the shotgun, and the Patriots have to settle for three points.

Two stopped runs, at least one dubious play-call, and that was about it. That was essentially the point of the game in which McDaniels decided the Patriots could not run — — and would not attempt to with any seriousness or aggression — against a defense that had turned opposing running backs into a combination of 1984 Eric Dickerson and 1998 Terrell Davis. Brilliant strategy. Brilliant.

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I’ll keep this one very short, since I wrote a couple of volumes on Brady and the abandoned running game.

It’s not all about Logan Mankins, you guys: It’s easy to play the causation/correlation game and claim that the veteran All-Pro’s departure and the struggles of the line he left behind are intertwined.

I agree with it in this sense: they miss Mankins’s mean streak and leadership. He was the veteran who set the tone.

But if you want to suggest that trading him to the Bucs is the reason the line is in chaos, I have to ask: Did you watch Mankins play last year? Forget the name, accolades, and reputation. Did you watch? Did you take note of the struggles he had in pass protection (he allowed double-digit sacks, though one or two game while he was filling in at tackle)? Do you remember that last season ended when the Broncos’ Terrence Knighton — a guy who answers to the nickname Pot Roast, for heaven’s sake — blew past him to bury Brady?

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Mankins was a great player here. They miss his presence. There is no mistake in letting him go. He made too much money — yes, that is a legitimate factor, as it should be — and his play no longer justified the salary. The mistake is not having a suitable replacement ready to go, though I suspect there is belief within the organization that Bryan Stork can be that guy.

If you believe Tom Brady would have fewer bruises on his torso this morning had Mankins remained here, I’d suggest you replay a few games from last year and get back to me.

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Hell yes, the Patriots must solve their line problems, soon, and it would be swell if the offensive coordinator played an actual role in finding that solution. But let’s not pretend the solution was traded away. It’s just not true.

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